Friday, May 19, 2017

Young Naturalists @ Westmeade Program

by Karen McIntyre, Librarian at Westmeade Elementary (@kjmcinty @WESdragons)

"I thought you were a librarian.  What does a bluebird nest have to do with the library?”  It’s a response I sometimes get when describing the joy of watching young students experience their first gaze into the bluebird box after tiny naked birds have emerge from the blue eggs with their beaks open to receive worms.                                                            
In my first library job a City Councilman accosted me.  “Are you are trying to compete with day care?”  Stunned, I asked him why he thought that.  Well you are spending money on shaving cream, dirt, seeds and all kinds of arts and crafts supplies, you are supposed to read books to children.”  I invited him to stay and see for himself what I did.  He saw kids reacting to stories through activities.  Today we call them makerspaces.  He saw happy parents for whom the library provided a shared community.  My first practical lesson was that educating people about a good library is best told as a story!   

I recently heard a principal (not mine) say that having the kind of library program that provides open checkout, team taught lessons, and all that goes with it is a luxury.  Libraries,

as the repository of human knowledge and experience, are never a luxury.  Librarians as instigators of curiosity, research and reason, are never a luxury.   Time to tell the story!

Every school is a unique community of learners and every library program is shaped by that.  A good library will respond by also reshaping its community.  Let me illustrate what I mean with my school, Westmeade.  It  is in a part of town with a long history of conservation including on-going  support  to maintain a corridor for animal migration.   Working with the Westmeade Conservancy introduced me to passionate neighbors who were eager to help our students develop a sense of wonder in nature.  A partnership with our P.E. teacher, who was dedicated to healthy living, lead to our garden.  Soon students were eagerly rescuing worms to put them in the compost, and rejoicing in things that formerly would have elicited “Yeeews.” They were seeing wildlife through new eyes.  

Our community continued to bring us experts who helped create more contacts with nature.   Sam Jones, local Bluebird enthusiast taught us to build our bluebird boxes!  Then two years ago, Cynthia Lee, local nature educator turned up through a connection with a parent.  Her wonderful nature enrichment program at the University School in conjunction with Warner Park Nature Center became the model for our Young Naturalists @ Westmeade program.

What more awaits our school with the Library at its heart is yet to be written, but we hope it will include being the first school in Tennessee to become an environmental/sustainability magnet. 

What has that to do with the library?  Everything if a library's purpose is: 
to provide a flexible space with a wide and inclusive range of resources to support learning and teaching throughout the school. 
• to have a vibrant role in the development of a culture that promotes wider reading, motivated readers and learners for life.